Enterprise chief attacks £4.3m of state aid for pubs as 'hollow'

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The Independent Online

The chief executive of the pubs operator Enterprise Inns launched a scathing attack on the amount of help the Government has proposed to give community pubs and questioned its timing just weeks ahead of a general election.

This month, the newly appointed Minister for Pubs, John Healey, unveiled funding of £4.3m to help the embattled pubs sector, which suffered a record number of closures last year.

However, Ted Tuppen, the chief executive of debt-laden Enterprise Inns, said the figure "compares poorly" to the £20m that his company spent helping licensees last year and "pales into insignificance" with the additional £160m increase in beer duty imposed by the Government in the Budget last week.

"The £4.3m over three years might make a reasonable political headline but it does not make much difference," Mr Tuppen said. "I think it is perhaps noteworthy that after 13 years in government with three months to go to an election they appoint a minister for pubs. This seems to us to be a late conversion to the importance of community pubs. It just looks a hollow announcement."

According to the British Beer and Pub Association, the Government has increased beer duty by the cash equivalent of £761m since the 2008 Budget. Asked what he would like to see from the next government, Mr Tuppen said: "To take a far more conservative view of beer duty and above all leave the industry alone to allow the talent within it to make a success of it."

His comments came as Enterprise issued a trading update which said there had been "no material" change in its performance since its interim management statement on 21 January.

Yesterday, Enterprise, which has more than 7,000 pubs, said trading in its pubs let on substantive agreements had been "relatively stable".

The City expects Enterprise, which had net debt of £3.6bn on 30 September 2009, to reduce its portfolio of pubs by up to 500 this financial year. Enterprise, Britain's second-biggest pubs company, said it remained "confident" that it would have adequate banking facilities at the time of its refinancing, which it expects to conclude before its year-end in September.